This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's June 1, 1998, issue. Subscribe today!
This is the third installment of Phil Jackson's diary of what he believes is his last season as coach of the Bulls.
Tuesday, May 5: We swept the Nets and beat the Hornets in Game 1 of the conference semis, and now people are saying we'll sweep the playoffs. That isn't how we see ourselves. We aren't that dominant anymore, or as deep, and we're sure not young. Still, we feel confident against Charlotte. We beat them Sunday 83-70, but we didn't look good. We've grown accustomed to shooting poorly in the United Center because it's so vast. That's why we have Dennis Rodman -- to clean up our misses.
Wednesday, May 6: My day began poorly. I had to perform my morning meditation in a chair instead of my usual position on the floor because my knee hurt so much. And the day ended up poorly, with Dell Curry and our old teammate B.J. Armstrong beating us in the fourth quarter. B.J. made the winning jumper with less than 20 seconds to go then pumped his fist as he passed our bench. We didn't like being embarrassed by a former Bull.
Thursday, May 7: In a video session before practice, I showed the first three quarters so the players could see how we kept letting the Hornets come back. Michael said, "I'm going to start guarding the point guards, and Harp's going to take Bobby Phills." We never talked specifically about B.J. beating us; we just observed it. That was enough.
Friday, May 8: What a day of turmoil! We're in Charlotte, and on the bus ride to our shootaround, assistant GM Jim Stack tells me Jerry Reinsdorf just gave an extensive interview about the club's future and not to be surprised if the media are all over me. They were -- five deep, asking, "Are you really the one responsible for the breakup of the Bulls?" I deflected them, saying, "We have a very important game tonight, and if we don't win the championship, everything is moot." Yes, it's time for me to take some time off. The only thing management could have said that would have changed things is, "Stay on until Michael is finished, so we can be sure we have him back until he retires." But it was never suggested.
We won tonight 103-89 to go up 2-1. But all I could think was, Why do these upsetting stories happen just at our toughest moments? Is it so we can respond to the challenge?
Saturday, May 9: We held practice at 9:30 a.m., and the trouble with that is it gives Michael too much time to play golf. I always tell the guys that MJ has a portable golf range in his basement and that he hits balls all day so his golf motion will not be an unusual strain on his body. If left completely unmonitored, he'll get in 45 or 54 holes in a day. It's like his Zen, his moment to be away from it all.
Our front office and coaching staff used to go together to dinner on Saturday night; now I go with one group, and Jerry Krause goes with another. Tex Winter is sort of the bridge between the two. We went out separately tonight, but both groups ended up at the Palm restaurant. We just had to grin at the situation. Krause offered to pick up our tab, but I declined because I wanted to take care of my waiter. My brother Joe, who's a psychologist and was with me at dinner, told me later that there had to be a way to disarm the two encampments. "Your book was all about how to resolve conflict," he said. Winning doesn't resolve the split, so I'll be looking for a creative way to break the spell. There's got to be another way.
Monday, May 11: We lead the Hornets 3-1 after winning yesterday. I still worry about the way we perform at the United Center. Sometimes I think it's the hour-and-a-half commute some of the guys have. They get to the game, and they're sleepwalking. It's not a good excuse, but it's about the only one I've got. Michael is in a better mood and has had some good laughs lately. He came to practice today -- just a film session -- wearing his golf pants and shirt under his jersey and practice shorts. It was funny, but I never made a comment. He sat there, and I never said a word.
Friday, May 15: We finished Charlotte 93-84 on Wednesday, and now we are thinking about Indiana. We all watched the Pacers beat the Knicks last Sunday when Reggie Miller's miraculous three-point shot went in and brought overtime. Now we know what our job is.
Sunday, May 17: It was Dennis' birthday week. He has been partying, and that's why he was late to practice this week. But that's not why I made the decision not to start him today. We just wanted Dennis to focus on Antonio Davis, who has been such a key off the bench. It wasn't punishment.
The Pacers have really stepped up their defense since Larry Bird and Dick Harter have come in. They jump you on the screen-and-rolls and make it almost impossible to drive the lane. We escaped the first one today 85-79. We were fortunate. And the journey continues.